We all have our favorite summer jams: I hear Springsteen belt out the first lines of “Darlington County”—Driving into Darlington, County/Me and Wayne on the Fourth of July”—I’m back to being a high-school grad in the summer of ’84, with no real responsibilities and my whole life ahead of me. Glory days, indeed.
The Weekly asked a few Tucsonans to name their favorite summer jams—and now we turn the mic over to Rialto Theatre head wrangler Curtis McCrary to meditate on the very nature of summer jams. Over to you, Curtis!
The seasonal quest to find outstanding summer jams has been an armchair hobby of music fans since the invention of Summer itself, which I can only assume dates back to Sumeria. It’s a fun diversion, and for the artist who can exploit the zeitgeist with the right timing and mood-capturing, it can do career wonders as well. Ubiquity is another key component, such that even when a song isn’t particularly upbeat or fun, if it’s everywhere, and it’s summer, it’s a Summer Jam by default (to wit, “Every Breath You Take,” (1983) or “When Doves Cry” (1984)). But for me, it’s more about the carefree mood, and any song that allows me to pretend that I can still enjoy the freedom from responsibility that boyhood summers represented is a Summer Jam in my book, even if it breaks in winter. Well maybe not winter but you get the drift (and pardon the pun).
Occasionally, determining the official Jam of the Summer becomes a sort of contest, residing as such only in the brains and public posts of the pop culture commentariat, which in 2019 essentially means Twitter. But in 1987, it might have only been in my own fevered imagination as I rooted, hard, for U2’s breakout single “With Or Without You” to triumph in its neck-and-neck battle for chart supremacy over Madonna’s “La Isla Bonita.” Had Bono & Co. not pulled off the upstart upset, who knows if they’d have continued on their path of world domination, or been consigned to permanent residency of the “where are they now?” file. Who am I kidding—an ego as big as “Bono Vox”‘s could not be stifled by such a relatively minor setback. But triumph they did, and we all spent the summer of 1987 (and ever since) watching pretentious Irishmen act all earnest and shit while dodging taxes.
In recent times, the most exciting Summer Jam battle was in 2013, between the fauxbot funk of Daft Punk and Pharrell’s “Get Lucky” and the groovy, casually reprobate misogyny of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” also featuring Pharrell. That guy gets around. Both songs were impossible to avoid that spring and summer, and both have the undeniable earworm quality that is necessary but not sufficient for Summer Jam enshrinement. So which came out on top? It’s safe to say that, six years on and post-#metoo, the “Blurred Lines” video (featuring a bevy of models in varying states of undress as Thicke and Pharrell leered on) would have disqualified the song from polite consideration. Sure, it (clumsily) slapped, but Robin Thicke is to music what Eric Trump is to real estate, and speaking of the “where are they now?” file… “Get Lucky” was the clear winner. I write this while there’s an ongoing Twitter debate about whether Daft Punk’s “Random Access Memories” holds up in hindsight, but whether or not it does, “Get Lucky” is most definitely the kind of song that can put you in the Summer State of Mind inside of 10 seconds.
All the greatest Summer Jams by definition transport you to that Summer Place. Therefore I submit that the best Summer Jam of all is also the quintessential Summer Jam, in that it’s specifically about the essence of the Summer Jam itself—Will Smith’s “Summertime.” It’s at once a conjuring of the specific laid-back-yet-joyful feeling unleashed by a proper Summer Jam, and an ode to the season itself, and it immediately puts one in a better mood, like, huh, maybe this dystopian clown show ain’t so bad after all. I mean, how many songs remind you that “…you’re invited to a barbecue that’s starting at 4”? It’s truly the meta-Summer Jam, as Smith peppers it with recursive references like “And with a pen and pad I compose this rhyme/To hit you and get you equipped for the summer time.” He knew what he was doing. Will Smith isn’t going to write a song and let others decide whether it’s a Summer Jam or not, he’s going to just own the Summer Jam. And in 1991, and arguably for all subsequent time, he did just that.
Runner up: De La Soul, “A Rollerskating Jam Named ‘Saturdays'”
Executive Director, Rialto Theatre Foundation
“Ain’t No Cure for the Summertime Blues”
So many good ones. Got to go with “Ain’t No Cure for the Summertime Blues.” The Who version. 1967. Probably because it came at an impressionable age, when I could spend my summer out riding my bike and hanging out at the drug store. As I got a little older and worked during the summer, the song resonated. Always of a political bent, the line about going to the congressman who didn’t care because “You’re too young to vote” spoke to an era. Who knew then that the Who were covering Eddie Cochran? Great song. Close second: “Hot Fun in the Summertime.” Sly and the Family Stone. Enough said there.
Mayor of Tucson
I’m really loving the new Cat Power record Wanderer. The song “Horizon” should cure anyone’s summertime blues. The people we are closest to sometimes feel so far away, this song will make you feel better.
Even though it’s not usually referred to as a summer song, “Raspberry Beret” has a colorful, breezy, psychedelic vibe, along with its sweaty lyrics about warm weather and rain on the barn roof and motorcycle road trips (not to mention, some love in the afternoon), feels so perfectly “summer,” it’s best listened to while sitting in the grass under a tree on a hot day, snacking on a bowl of fresh raspberries. And of course, the idea of it being too warm to wear much else other than a beret is just so perfectly Prince.
Programming Director, Loft Cinema
This is a bittersweet summer fling make-out anthem by an ethereal dream pop Brooklyn band. It feels good and is full of emotions, especially if you can let your imagination fill in the blank for the almost words of “ooh oh ah bah bah.” It’s been on repeat every summer since I’ve heard it. At 2:45, another play could make it even better.
Guitar and vocals, La Cerca
Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros
A real positive vibe throughout the song matched with lyrics that are incredibly thought-provoking. Leave it to Joe Strummer to create a new sound that has that summertime feeling while still delivering his signature social message!
Southern Arizona Executive Director, Local First Arizona
When summer comes in Tucson only the freaks are left in town and they’ve become creatures of the night. Some people don’t like the heat but for a lizard it’s very relaxing…
Guitar and vocals, Mute Swan
Starland Vocal Band
Literally the first thing that came to mind was “Afternoon Delight” it was all over the radio during a vacation to San Diego when I was 10 and excited to go to Comic Con (Comic Con, at the time was completely contained within the El Cortez Hotel in Downtown San Diego.) But every time I hear that song I think about beach vacations and driving I-5 to the coast. Summer!
Did I understand what Afternoon Delight meant? Yes, of course. Ice cream at the beach!!!
Entertainment Director, Hotel Congress
This song reminds me of a classic Tucson summer—a slower overall pace because of the soaring temperatures and a more relaxed vibe all around town. Also, there’s a surge of energy and activity that this song reflects!
Cohost, Rarity Rock Radio